It's worth noting . . . that the word "Christian" occurs in the New Testament exactly three times
and the word "Christianity" exactly zero.
The word "disciple," however, is found 263 times.
~Brian D. McLaren

Books

This “Books” category will provide reviews of various books. We will try to share why we like and dislike a particular book.

You are encouraged to write comments (or ask questions) about the particular books, and if nothing is offensive, we will approve them for other to respond to as well. It is definitely okay to disagree with us, just, please, don’t be offensive!

Take America Back For God? The Myth of a Christian Nation

We’ve all heard the rhetoric.  “We need to take America back for God!”

Why?  Supposedly so we can regain some bygone level of ethics or moral standards.  Supposedly, if we don’t, God will get tired of us “rebuking” God and remove God’s hand of protection from us.  Supposedly so God won’t test us or judge us or something.

Yet, as Gregory A. Boyd notes in his important book The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church, taking America BACK for God assumes we, at one time, really belonged to God, followed God, listened to God. Boyd goes on to ask, when was this glorious age in the history of the USA?

Let’s start way back.  We’ve been taught that many people migrated to North America for religious freedom.  So was this glorious time when some of our forebears imprisoned, tormented, and / or hanged many suspected to be witches?  Is that what so many want to take us back to?

Many of our European forebears believed that God (or nature) had sanctioned “manifest destiny” for white Christians to conquer North America.  So, was this special time when white aliens made and broke treaties with the Native Americans and forced them out of their homelands? Is that what so many want to take us back to?

One of the things that helped the southern states of the USA to thrive economically early on was the inexpensive labor provided by African slaves who were seen as 3/5 of a human.  So, was our land glorifying God when it continued to allow and support the slave trade and the ownership of slaves?  Or, was this golden age when our nation decided to take up arms against itself in the Civil War?  Is that what so many want to take us back to?

Maybe the golden years were when Jim Crow laws were enforced and “separate but equal” facilities were seen as okay.  Maybe it was when so many worked hard to suppress the vote of African Americans.  Is that what so many want to take us back to?

Speaking of voting, for the first 144 years of our nation, women were apparently not seen as being “created equal” with “all men.”  Apparently, they, prior to 1920, had not been “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” like voting.  Even today, women tend to make less than men in comparable jobs.  Is that what so many want to take us back to?

Was this age that many want to take us back to before there were child labor laws?  Was it before workers’ compensation protected people?  Was it before laws were enacted to limit the amount of hours that companies can force people to work? (I mean, who really wants to give up their weekend?). . .

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It seems that many who want to take us back to whatever complain that politicians don’t use the words “God” or “Jesus” or “Christian” or whatever.  “People are just trying to take God out of everything,” I hear again and again.

Some of these same  people say that not only do we have to get back to God, we have to get back to the Constitution – and don’t you dare add anything to or take away from that near-divine document (at least in the minds of some).  Some go on to say, “The phrase ‘separation of church and state’ is nowhere to be found, so don’t try to add it.”

Okay, let’s go back to the Constitution.

Never once does it use the words “God,” “Jesus,” “Christian,” “Creator,” or even “Nature.”  And yet, so many of the “take America back for God,” try to put those words there.

Notice what it does say under Article VI:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

And yet, so often we put our political candidates to religious tests.  So much for going back to the Constitution.

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The Constitution does say that it seeks “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

Union.  Common.  General Welfare.  Ourselves.  Our Posterity.

It seems that these word all have to do everybody, not just some, and definitely not just individuals, despite the use of the phrase, “individual rights,” that is often thrown around (in fact, “individual” is not even a word used in the Constitution).

We have a long ways to go, but in my estimation, in terms of action, we are more Christian today than in the past.  We are at a better place now of looking out for the needs of at least most.  More people are included in the experience of liberty than in the past.  Sure, we don’t use the so-called Christian words as much, but even Jesus criticized folks who said one thing and did another.  You’ll know them by their fruit.

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Galatians 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. (NRSV)

Philippians 2:  3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. (NRSV)

Matthew 7:20 Thus you will know them by their fruits. (NRSV)

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I initially intended this post to be a book review of Gregory A. Boyd’s book noted above, but I veered in a different direction.  Simply put, I recommend that book to anyone interested in and concerned about politics in our country in relation to religion.  I don’t agree with everything he says, but for the most part, I think he hits the nail on the head.


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Hometown Prophet – A Book Review

Honestly, I’ve always been skeptical of the “supernatural” – predicting the future, speaking in tongues, miracles, and the like. On top of that, I’ve come to believe that the biblical prophets were not predicting the future so much as telling people to shape up for a good future or expect a dismal future if they stay on their current path. Think about it.  That’s the task that Jonah is faced with (that he runs away from), and when he tells his archenemies, the Ninevites, they actually do what he says, to his chagrin. Their future is good.

As I got about one third of the way through Hometown Prophet by Jeff Fulmer, a story about a slightly below average man turned supernatural predictor of the future, I was ready to give up on the book. Three things kept me going:

  1. I’d made a deal with www.TheSpeakEasy.info. They’d given me a free book in return for a review of it. I wasn’t going to go back on my deal.
  2. Some of my friends had told me that if I read the Left Behind series as pure fiction, they could be enjoyable. I’ll take their word for that, but I figured I could look at this as pure fiction and get past differences in theology.
  3. If I was honest, though, I had heard and experienced some supernatural events that called my thoughts into question:
  • My Grandma often told the story of my Dad as a little tyke riding his tricycle in the kitchen. He’d had a wreck, falling back on the wood burning stove neck first. Nothing they could do would stop his crying. I don’t remember whether the doctor was not in town, or he couldn’t do anything either. As a last resort, they took him to a local “healer” who said something, spit in her hand, and touched his neck. Grandma said he quit crying instantly.
  • A seminary professor of mine had told the story of a United Methodist seminarian who’d graduated a few years before my time. He’d grown up in and accepted his call in UM churches that practiced “traditional” worship. Once, as a requirement for a seminary class, he’d attended a Pentecostal church to write a paper about worship styles. Much to his surprise, he was “slain in the Spirit” and spoke in tongues leaving him questioning whether glossolalia was really “repugnant to the word of God” as Methodist doctrine proclaims.
  • I’d taken a college-aged group to a revival service featuring an exuberant preacher. After her sermon, she invited folks to come to the altar to pray if they felt led. She, in turn, went around to each person, laid hands on each, and prayed out loud for each without speaking to person. One young woman in my group went forward to pray. She had confided in me recently about some difficulties she was facing. She was a total stranger to the preacher, but the preacher prayed specifically for the problems the young lady was facing.

Armed with the insights above, I continued on.

Peter Quill is a 31 year old college grad who never really made it, and he finds himself back at home – without a job and living with his divorced mother. He’d given up on church, but when he is awakened by a very vivid, lucid dream about his childhood pastor, he decides to go to church. Inspired by his dream and the sermon he hears, Peter goes forward to tell the now-older pastor that he should get his heart checked out. Turns out he does have a life-threatening blockage. Thus begins a story of one who has dreams that predict the future following a time of interpretation.

Frankly, the first third of the book was rather predictable for me as Peter’s predictions get wider, affecting larger numbers of people of his community in and around Nashville. I also found this portion of the book rather slow moving failing to hold my interest. Yet, shortly following this, twists and turns began to happen and predictability went out the window. A love interest for the prophet entered the story adding more depth to the plot and to Peter. On top of that, Peter’s dreaming went from being simply foretelling the future to being about changing people’s attitudes and actions, too, which was closer to my way of thinking. By the beginning of the last third of the book, I was engrossed in a real page-turner, and I did not want to put it down.

Socially speaking, the book promotes ideas that I appreciate: care for the poor, care for the environment, and respect for other religions. It also highlights the hypocrisy of some forms of Christianity that pick and choose the “sins” they want to highlight in society while overlooking others. It promotes moving the church beyond its own walls out into community, and it encourages individuals to take the personal responsibility of looking out for one’s neighbors. It also encourages persons to grow in their self-esteem as they begin to discover and use their God-given gifts (as Peter does throughout the book).

This book fits into what I call theological fiction. Other books that fit this genre for me include Marcus Borg’s Putting Away Childish Things: A Tale of Modern Faith (which I really enjoyed), Joseph F. Girzone’s Joshua: A Parable for Today, and William P. Young’s The Shack. These seem heavy-handed in theology, though. Some sections could easily be excerpted from these works of fiction and plopped down in a non-fiction theology book; thus, in many ways, they don’t always feel like novels to me.

In contrast, I enjoyed how Fulmer includes theology in his book in a more background way. There are no long speeches or narratives espousing theology. There’s theology there but not overtly. Thus, the book was much more readable as a novel.

And yet, I still struggle with some aspects of the theology. Most I can squint my eyes through, but I’m left with the idea that the author might be espousing a theology in which God causes natural disasters to teach people lessons.  Now, I’m not sure, after looking at his website, that Fulmer feels that way, but the book certainly left me feeling that way.  I just can’t go there. The character of God that I see in Jesus doesn’t do that. For sure, God can teach us things in response to natural disasters – and I believe God does. But, the God I know doesn’t cause natural disasters.

As a work of fiction, I think Hometown Prophet is a real good read, especially once you get past the first third with the last third being the best. There are good elements of theology sprinkled in, but one should think critically about all aspects of the theology found there – and anywhere, for that matter.

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About Jeff Fulmer, the author of  Hometown Prophet:

Jeff grew up in Franklin Tennessee, just outside of Nashville, where he attended a conservative, charismatic church that actively sought the gifts of the Holy Spirit. After graduating from Pepperdine University, he bounced around for a few introspective years before eventually moving back home to Tennessee. Along the way, he began to question some of his longstanding beliefs and attempted to reconcile his political and religious views. Increasingly, he became saddened and angered with how Christianity was so misrepresented for personal and political gain.  Hometown Prophet was born out of that frustration.  Learn more at www.hometownprophetbook.com.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.


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What Does a Progressive Christian Believe? A Book Review

Retha, the unofficial spokesperson and treasurer for the Open Door Sunday School Class, had told me that they would soon be finishing the book they were studying and would need some recommendations.  They were the one truly liberal Sunday School class at First United Methodist in Wichita Falls, Texas.  I could have given them a list of Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, or John Shelby Spong  books that they had not yet discussed.  Nothing against any of them, but I really wanted them to get a slightly different perspective even if it was saying similar things with different words and insights.  Yet, I hadn’t read much of anything in awhile other than those authors myself.  The few different things I had read would not interest them.

Amazon.com had often given me recommendations of books I should buy, but there for awhile, they recommended anything with the label “Christian.”  Many of those I was not going to read or recommend, so I was skeptical when I saw a recommendation for What Does a Progressive Christian Believe? A Guide for the Searching, the Open, and the Curious by Delwin Brown.  I was not familiar with Brown or his work, and I didn’t really know anything about the publisher, Seabury Books (which is an Episcopal publishing house).  The title sounded intriguing to me, but for the Open Door Class who were suspect of anything sounding creedal, there was one word in that title that I knew would turn them off: believe.  I couldn’t recommend it and say I hadn’t read it if I wanted them to read it.  I was going to have to be able to talk it up and give insights into how Brown used that word, believe.  So, I ordered it and read it as fast as I could.

In trying to talk it up, I told the class that the book did something that I’d been saying mainline / progressive Christians should do – be black and white about the fact that there is gray in the world.  Since then, I’ve changed that to say that we should be black and white about the fact that there is a full spectrum of diverse colors between the extremes of black and white.  This book does that as well for me.

Brown begins by talking about what progressive Christianity is NOT.  In doing so, he gives a short but solid history of the development of theology over the past 200 years, highlighting the dominant theological movements from that time period.  He shows aspects of each that progressive Christians should not adhere to while also pointing out positive elements of each that can inform a progressive Christian’s journey of faith.

Next he looks at how to more properly interpret and be informed by both Scripture and tradition.  A major part of this discussion involves what it means to say that each has “authority” while also showing unhealthy ways that we attribute authority to these sources of our faith.  He also graciously points out ways in which both cannot be considered “inerrant” while affirming their incalculable worth to our spiritual foundation and growth.

In the next chapter, Brown sets up a concept that will run through the rest of the book as he considers the incarnation.  Surprisingly, to guide and inform this discussion, he suggests “that we take as our guide the Christian councils of the fourth and fifth centuries, those gatherings of bishops and theologians at Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon called to clarify and define the nature and content of the Christian faith over and against all rival interpretations.” (pg. 32)

At this point, on my first reading, I almost put the book down to write it off for use in the Open Door Class given their disdain for creeds.  Had it not been for this next sentence, I probably would have, “To many progressive Christians, this way of addressing the question will seem unpromising, if not utterly shocking.” (pg. 32)  That made me read on, and I’m glad I did, for he succinctly describes the outcome of each of those councils in how they chose to interpret the incarnation of Jesus and then takes these affirmations to the next level.  The incarnation isn’t just about the incarnation of God in Jesus; it is about God being incarnated in all of humanity.  Then, alluding to passages like Ephesians 4:6 (God is above all, through all, and in all), Psalm 139 (there is nowhere we can go to escape God’s presence), and Acts 17:28 (it is in God that we live, move, and have our being) he takes the incarnation one step further – to all of creation.  Quoting Gregory of Nyssa (“What God has not assumed, God has not saved”) and looking to Romans 8:19-23 (in particular vs. 21 where Paul writes that all of creation will be saved), Brown brilliantly affirms these points: the incarnation isn’t just about Jesus or humanity but all of creation, too.

This way of looking at the incarnation is the theme that connects the rest of the book as he considers these chapter topics:

  • God: Exploring the Depth
  • Humanity: Continuing the Creation
  • Sin: Failing and Hiding
  • Salvation: Seeking and Finding
  • Church: Serving and Being Served
  • Rightly Mixing Religion with Politics

All the while, Brown leaves space for disagreement and alternate ways of thinking along the way while encouraging all (including himself) to having an open mind.

One feature of the book that I really appreciated were the “Points for Reflection” found at the end of each chapter.  Here he succinctly reminds us, in bullet-point fashion, of the primary points he wanted to get across in the chapter.  Thus, he helps the reader contemplate the chapter as a whole before moving on to the next chapter and topic for development and discussion.

If you hadn’t guessed it already, I highly recommend this book.  It helps us develop a theology that can easily lead to action as God takes on our flesh and guides us into the ministry of loving God and our neighbors as ourselves.


Delwin Brown was a United Methodist lay person and dean emeritus of Pacific School of Religion.  He was also Professor of Christian Theology at Illiff School of Theology.  Sadly, he passed away September 12, 2009 after battling cancer.


If you’ve read the book, please, leave your thoughts below!


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The Powers That Be – A Life-Changing Book

“That is, by far, the funniest movie we have ever seen,” my parents kept repeating.  They were not alone as other friends and family members had profusely offered a similar judgment.  I had yet to see it and wouldn’t see it for a few years.  I missed the window of when the movie was in the theaters, and this was still the time when it took quite awhile for movies to make it to video.  I was also cheap, so I seldom rented new release movies.  I preferred waiting until I could rent it for only $0.99.

Eventually, I got around to renting (at $0.99) and watching Robin Williams’ Mrs. Doubtfire.  To be honest, I was underwhelmed.  It’s not that I didn’t think it was funny – it was.  The problem was that with all the praise I heard, I was expecting even more than I got.  My expectations were too high, so it turned out to just be “okay.”

In saying that Walter Wink’s book, The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium, was a life-changing book, I fear raising your expectations too high.  Many things lead to this:

  • I don’t know how life-changing this book would have been for me had I not already had a year and a half of seminary under my belt.  Would I have been ready for or understood many of the concepts in the book?  I remember when serving First United Methodist in Wichita Falls, Texas that I recommended it to one Sunday School Class who was ready for it and loved it.  Another class who studied it shortly thereafter was not ready, did not understand it, and hated it (except for one or two individuals).
  • Had I not read this, I may have had similar life-changing experiences with other books.  At the same time, would I have been prepared for those other books without the new understandings I gleaned from this book?

Whatever the case, I do know this was a life-changing book for me at the right time, and it continues to be.  It molded the way I looked at the remainder of my time in seminary as it has my outlook on life in general.

The book was required reading for my Supervised Ministry Class at Brite Divinity School conducted by Dr. Steve Sprinkle.  The purpose of the class was to help me critique (and be critiqued) in my service of ministry within a local congregation (for me it was First United Methodist of Lewisville, Texas).  To help in this process, we had reflection papers along the way.  One of these papers was entitled “Appropriate Pastoral Authority and the Minister of Integrity.”  The required texts to influence this paper was The Powers That Be and Michael & Deborah Bradshaw Jinkins’ Power and Change in Parish Ministry: Reflections on the Cure of Souls.  I had a hard time writing the paper as I kept wanting to contemplate other aspect of Wink’s book that didn’t relate directly to the paper.

I remember the three things that most impacted me back then:

  • The idea that there are different ways of viewing the world, and the dominate way of viewing the world has changed through the centuries.  Wink gave a brief definition of several of these worldviews (ancient, spiritualist, materialist, theological, and integral) highlighting positive and negative attributes of each and offered an invitation to begin to view the world through the integral worldview.
  • He pointed out something many of us have experienced in life: even organizations have a “spirit.”  Haven’t you entered a church and right away could feel a positive or negative vibe?  Or have you taken a job somewhere expecting it to be a certain way, but as you got to know the organization you sensed a positive or negative attitude that was deeper than a surface level critique of the place?  Or have you worked or participated somewhere where the leadership changed and with it so did the demeanor of the organization (in a good or bad way)?  Although I had experienced things such as these, I’d never taken time to consider that sometimes the spirit of an organization needs redemption, too.
  • For the first time, I experienced the teachings of Jesus as being more than simply personal – for personal salvation only.  There was a social aspect that I’d never been exposed to (or chose to listen to).  So many of Jesus’ teachings were about dealing with and changing society, and Wink made this very clear for me for the first time.

I think these three stood out the most to me on my first reading as they most closely related to the paper I had to write.  Since that first reading, though, Jesus’ promotion of non-violent resistance has been what has been most eye-opening for me.  This is clearly in Jesus’ teachings when we are able strip away the way we have often been taught some of Jesus’ teachings, and this book helped me to do that.

So far, I’ve read this book cover-to-cover at least three times, and I’ve gone back to study and / or reference parts of it for deeper understanding.  Each time, I’ve come away with a new insight or way of understanding the world and our Christian response to it.

For me, the one weak point of the book is Chapter 10, “Prayer and the Powers.”  In many ways I feel that he retreats from the integral worldview back into the ancient worldview in his understanding of prayer.  That being said, the thoughts he laid down about prayer made me reconsider my own thoughts on prayer, and there is still good insights to take way.

For those wanting a good book to study, this one can create some good conversation.  Vern Rossman has created a study guide to go along with the book, and it can be found at http://www.bridges-across.org/ba/vr_confront.htm.  Honestly, I haven’t found that to be very helpful for me, but that probably has more to say about my teaching style than his guide.  In the fall of 2011, I led two groups from First United Methodist in Wichita Falls through this book.  To accompany, I used video clips from some Living the Questions produced series:  Victory and Peace or Justice and Peace, featuring John Dominic Crossan; Tex Mix: Stories of Earthy Mysticism, featuring story of and told by Tex Sample; and the segment on “Prayer” from Living the Questions – the original study.

If you haven’t read the book, obviously, I’d highly recommend it.  If you have, please, leave a note below about your thoughts of the book.


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A New Kind of Christianity – Or Is It The Original?

My wife grew up in a fundamentalist tradition.  It seemed normal or “the way things are” at the time.  Now years later, after following me to United Methodist Churches over the past ten years, she’s been able to more objectively reflect on that experience.

The first eye-opening experience she told me about after leaving that tradition followed the Easter sermon preached by Rev. John Mollet at First United Methodist Church in Lewisville, Texas in 2001.  She noted that up until that time, all the Easter sermons she ever heard before then were really Good Friday sermons.  They focused entirely on Jesus’ crucifixion, not the resurrection; they were about death, not life.

The second eye-opening experience occurred a few years ago following a discussion at our 2nd Thursday St. Simeon Study Group in Wichita Falls, Texas.  Despite all the rhetoric she heard growing up that the preachers were preaching “the Bible,” the “very words of God,” they actually kept preaching the same texts over and over with the same basic theology of “the Romans road” – the things supposedly required for one to be “saved” and go to heaven.  She made this revelation because our study group had been dealing with several Bible passages that she’d never heard before.  They spoke to things that had nothing to do with the so-called “Romans road.”

“They weren’t preaching the Bible.  They were preaching a particular theology, and they chose only the scriptural texts that supported that theology,” she exclaimed!

As I finished reading Brian D. McLaren’s book, A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith, I was reminded of these insights shared by Sandra of her evangelical experience.  McLaren is a self-professed evangelical, but he has turned off the Romans road onto the way of Jesus with the insights he shares in this book.

Once the pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church, which he founded, he is now Theologian in Residence of Life in the Trinity Ministries and continues to write and speak.  What I had not realized until reading this book is that he has no formal theological training.  He was a college English professor when he felt called to start Cedar Ridge!  Yet, I think this is, in many ways, something positive, for in this book, he approaches important issues facing the church today not simply as a trained theologian using religious talk but an English professor who can really write.  He describes things in ways that are more practical than theological in wording, making the theology all the more easy to grasp and understand.  To be honest, a few of his examples were a little cheesy, and a few he belabored, but they got the point across in such a way that should help any thinking Christian or religious questioner begin to question and hone their own thoughts and beliefs.

Although McLaren is less patently theological in this book, one thing I REALLY appreciate is the fact that he uses a lot of Scripture.  Many other popular progressive, liberal, emergent (insert your own description here) authors have great things to say, but they don’t show that their thoughts and theology can also be found in the Bible.  Thus, the more conservative and fundamentalist people can more easily discount them.  McLaren, though, uses the Scriptures much and well, leaving his detractors the choices of ignoring much of the Bible they claim to preach or opening them to new understandings and theologies in their own Bible.

For me, the two most important issues he tackles include:

  • The fact that ultimately, we have recast the Gospel and biblical message in a Greco-Roman philosophy, not keeping these in their Jewish roots; and
  • The fact that we have begun to read the Bible as a constitution, not as the library of 66 books that it actually is.

The way he unpacks these problems is eye-opening and potentially life changing.  He helps us put Christianity into it’s original context with its original intent and message – away from later theological additions.

Another important aspect of this book is that he ends with some actual things we can DO.  Many books in this emergent Christianity vein give us some great things to think about without give us something actionable – or they give ideas that are so vague one is left still wondering what to do.  McLaren’s recommendations are solid but also allow for the wiggle room of the different situations folks may find themselves in.  Plus, in his ideas, he is pastoral – looking out for the good of all – giving evidence of how he was able to build a thriving and diverse congregation.

For those who might be looking for a group study book, this would be excellent.  We were using it in study group in Wichita Falls, Texas before moving out here to Maryland.  Plus, there are discussion questions in the back that help get the talking started.

If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it!  I’d love to hear your thoughts on the book as well, so please leave comments below.


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Re-Imagine the World: An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus

I first heard of Bernard Brandon Scott by seeing snippets of an interview and a sermon he gave as a part of the Living the Questions Saving Jesus video guided study.  I enjoyed what I heard and put his name on my “to read in the future” book list but had never quite gotten around to reading anything by him.

Then, in October 2010, I got the opportunity to see and hear him in person at Mayflower United Church of Christ in Oklahoma City along with Joanna Dewey as a part of a Jesus Seminar on the Road program.  Their topic was “First-Century Jesus Movements:  How Did Christianity Evolve?”  It was truly fascinating, and I was blown away by their insight.

Trying to stay on a budget, I limited myself to purchasing only one book, and Re-Imagine the World: An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus was it.

For me it was an easy initial read, but many of the laity in the church I serve (First United Methodist Church of Wichita Falls, Texas) did not find it quite as easy as I did.  So, as I read it again in preparation for leading discussions on the book, I could see where some might have trouble with parts of it.  It is one thing to read it and understand it; it is another thing to explain what it means to others!  Scott does use some “big” or less-used words; however, in general, when a new or relatively unknown topic is mentioned, there are set-apart “Cameo Essays & Texts” that are strategically placed near the introduced topic to help make it more clear.  I found these immensely helpful and wish more authors / publishers would do this!

The premise of the book is that through telling parables, Jesus “re-imagines” how the world is, showing that the socially and culturally imposed worldviews of the first century (and even today) are sometimes very wrong.  Jesus’ parables thus seek to change:

  • How we view the world;
  • How we view God and God’s role in the world; and
  • How we view ourselves and our role in the world.

For instance, he uses the examples of the beatitudes, which he (and the Scholars Version) term the “congratulations!”  You don’t have to be rich and powerful, for the poor has the kingdom of God and the meek will inherit the earth.  That role reversal is seen elsewhere in Jesus’ teachings, including the parables, as noted by Scott.

Scott’s approach is to consider each parable in it’s first century context at the time of Jesus’ ministry.  That means, he often pulls it out of the context of the gospel in which it is found, but he shows at the same time how the gospel writer misused the parable to begin with.  Here’s an example.

Matthew’s gospel sets up the parable of the unforgiving slave (Matthew 18:23-34) with Peter asking how many times he should forgive one who has sinned against him.  Jesus’ response is essentially infinite (77 times or 70×7 times).  Then Matthew puts this parable in which the king, who Matthew thinks is God, will only forgive one time (despite the fact that Matthew 5:48 says we are to be perfect / whole / impartial as God is perfect / whole / impartial).  Scott argues persuasively that Jesus does not equate the king with God, which gives a completely different interpretation of the parable.  I won’t tell you the rest of Scott’s interpretation outside the context of Matthew, though, as I want you to read the book!  ;c)

In addition, where there are parallels between parables in different gospels (including the Gospel of Thomas), Scott notes them and also shows where some of the differences between the different versions probably go back to redaction of the gospel writers – making the parables more inline with their own writing style and focus.

An aspect of Scott’s writing style that I thoroughly enjoyed (but other readers at my church did not) is that he sometimes leaves you hanging at the end of the chapter in which he has interpreted a parable.  You’re left wanting more – wanting to know how it fits into the big picture of Jesus’ life and ministry.  He does exactly that, though in chapters 12-13.  So, if you are finding it difficult to read, you might do as members of the Living the Questions Sunday School class did and read those chapters first and as you go along chapter-by-chapter.

I thoroughly recommend this book to you.  Members of a recent study that I led also said that this was one of the best books they have used for study.  Thus, I hope you’ll consider reading and sharing your insights below!


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